Review by Scott Cherry Photos by Tom Gilbert
Coney Island Hot Weiner Shop is the oldest downtown restaurant still in business by many decades. Guess who is the second oldest? It’s a restaurant that also holds the distinction of being the oldest still operating in its original location.
I first thought of the Atlas Grill, whose roots date to 1923. But research indicates it endured many breaks during changes of ownership and for a number of its years was a simple coffee shop.
Still thinking about it? Give up yet?
How many came up with Baxter’s Interurban Grill?
It opened as Interurban Eating House in 1978 near the courthouse and still is part of the seven-restaurant Interurban family, mostly located around Oklahoma City.
A second Tulsa restaurant later opened at 72nd Street and Yale Avenue. The Interurban founders — Robert Ross and Rusty Loeffler — also had a hand in Bellini’s, an Italian spot at 68th Street and Yale Avenue, and Tulsa Brewing Company at 72nd Street and Memorial Drive, where Lanna Thai is today.
Craig Baxter was around for it all.
“I worked at the original Interurban, Interurban South (called “Outerurban” by regulars), Tulsa Brewing Co. and Bellini’s at one time or another,” Baxter said recently. “I worked as dishwasher, busboy, bartender, cook and eventually manager. I wasn’t even 21 when I was serving drinks at the downtown Interurban.”
Those were the days of “liquor by the wink,” when customers were supposed to bring their own liquor, and restaurants charged for “setups” to make the drinks.
Baxter was asked how Interurban, one of the hottest spots in town then for singles and young professionals to mingle, got around the laws.
“Oh, we went to a liquor store and loaded up a van with liquor,” he said. “At the restaurant, we would just slap labels on the bottles and write people’s names on them.”
The main dining room of the downtown restaurant was destroyed by fire in March 1999. Arson and theft were suspected, but we found no record of the case being solved. A second dining room, added in 1982, had minimal damage.
“It had sprinklers, and the main dining room didn’t,” Baxter said. “I guess they weren’t required on ground-floor rooms when it first opened.”
After the main room was renovated, the founders sold the restaurant in 2000 to Baxter, who changed the name to Baxter’s Interurban Grill.
“Our menu has dishes from the old Interurban, Tulsa Brewing Company, Bellini’s and things we have added over the years,” Baxter said.
We stopped in recently for dinner. The entrance is under a blue awning in a high-rise building that is part of the Oklahoma State University Medical Center campus. Free parking is available in the lot south of the building, a real perk downtown.
The menu does have a variety of dishes — appetizers, Southwest items, burgers, sandwiches, salads, pastas, desserts and 10 additional entrees.
We started with the stuffed mushroom appetizer ($8), which featured eight mushroom caps filled with cream cheese and Italian sausage, topped with Parmesan cheese. It came with four thick, soft baguette slices, and we found it best to place a mushroom on the bread and eat it all together.
For main dishes, we ordered the rack of lamb ($26) and a steak sandwich ($12) with a cup of chicken rice soup ($4).
The lamb dish included four two-rib pieces of lamb cooked medium-rare. The meat had a mild flavor and went great with some mint jelly. The dish came with roasted red potatoes, sautéed spinach and a big dinner roll.
The sandwich was as simple and tasty as could be. It included a 6-ounce rib-eye steak served open-faced on Texas toast. The thin-cut steak was tender and flavorful. The soup included carrots, rice, chicken and a little onion in a mellow broth served piping hot.
Our server, Lauren, was attentive and efficient.
Baxter celebrated his 19th year owning the restaurant Feb. 2. Manager Molly Mason has been with Baxter’s for 14 years, and part-time manager Heather Razo has been there all 19 years.
Baxter’s is decorated with old photos of Sapulpa and Tulsa trolley lines and some sports memorabilia. A few tables that survived the fire, topped with old trolley photos and trolley tokens, are in the private room, which stages wedding rehearsal dinners many Friday nights.
Baxter said he thinks Tulsa Brewing Company and another brewpub operating at that time, Cherry Street Brewery, were way ahead of their time.
“People didn’t understand the craft beer thing back then,” he said. “We only had the beers we brewed, and people wanted to know why they couldn’t get a Coors Light.
“It’s too bad they are gone, but we’re still here. We like to remind people of that every once in a while.”